Remember this? It’s one of the few papers that Obama wrote while in college or law school that is still available, a 1983 article that appeared in the Columbia campus paper.

The article is mostly straight reportage and quotes about the Nuclear Freeze Movement, featuring organizations called “Arms Race Alternatives” (ARA) and “Students Against Militarism” (SAM). But Obama reveals his own attitude in a few comments such as, “Generally, the narrow focus of the Freeze movement as well as academic discussions of first versus second strike capabilities, suit the military-industrial interests, as they continue adding to their billion-dollar erector sets.” Note the superior tone and the contempt for the military, already present in Obama at a relatively young age. To him, the “military-industrial interests” are just boys playing with expensive toys.

Obama quotes one activist as saying “everyone’s asking for peace, but no one’s asking for justice,” which (in Obama’s words), causes “one…to wonder whether disarmament or arms control issues, severed from economic and political issues, might be another instance of focusing on the symptoms of a problem rather than the disease itself.” To Obama, the real problems appear to be economic and political issues involving a lack of justice, and the arms race is a mere symptom of that deeper concern (shades of this far more recent policy statement).

Later in the article, Obama writes in his own voice again:

Perhaps the essential goodness of humanity is an arguable proposition, but by observing the SAM meeting last Thursday night, with its solid turnout and enthusiasm, one might be persuaded that the manifestations of our better instincts can at least match the bad ones…

The most pervasive malady of the collegiate system specifically, and the American system generally, is that elaborate patterns of knowledge and theory have been disembodied from individual choices and government policy. What [the students in these groups] try to do is infuse what they have learned about the current situation, bring the words of that formidable roster on the face of Butler Library, names like Thoreau, Jefferson, and Whitman, to bear on the twisted logic of which we are today a part.

This is a young man who doesn’t seem to like America a whole lot and didn’t think all that much of humanity in general either. There is no question that he believes he knows better, and has purer and more noble instincts, than those in charge. That’s not an unusual point of view for a young man, of course. But Obama seems to have managed to carry a similar attitude right up to the present.

The NY Times picked up on the attitude:

What clearly excited him was the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which would end the testing and development of new weapons, and thus, in the minds of arms controllers, end the nuclear arms race. The Reagan administration vehemently opposed the treaty. Paraphrasing Mr. Bigelow’s views, Mr. Obama said the United States should initiate the ban “as a powerful first step towards a nuclear free world.” That phrase would reemerge decades later…

Barack Obama’s journalistic voice was edgy with disdain for what he called ‘the relentless, often silent spread of militarism in the country’ amid ‘the growing threat of war.’ The two groups, he wrote, “visualizing the possibilities of destruction and grasping the tendencies of distorted national priorities, are throwing their weight into shifting America off the dead-end track.”

And Obama biographer David Remnick called Obama’s article “muddled.”

The USSR fell not that many years after Obama wrote that 1983 piece, and many people believe this happened in part because of the arms race. See this on Reagan and Star Wars:

In the arms control negotiations with the Soviets, SDI proved to be a very powerful bargaining chip, primarily because the President did not believe it was up for discussion. Secondly, as many of us who met with USSR officials came to realize, the Soviets were the most fervent believers that the U.S. could actually develop and field the complex systems needed for SDI to work! Moscow had apparently concluded that this system would tip the strategic balance toward the United States.

This came at a time that the USSR itself was falling further behind economically—much more so than many in the U.S. Intelligence Community believed.

We did not fully appreciate then that Gorbachev, unlike his predecessors, was aware of the depths that the Soviet economy had fallen. It also appears that Gorbachev was deeply concerned about the President’s SDI program, feeling that what was at stake was more than just a space defense program. He believed that if the United States combined its technological superiority with its economic potential, America would make an enormous “skachok” (leap) ahead. In doing so, we would, to use the Marxian phrase, “consign the Soviet Union to the ash- heap of history”!

It’s also instructive to remember this:

…President Obama erred in 2013 with his decision to scrap — in response to Russian objections — a planned system in Europe to defend against missile threats from the Middle East. Obama won no good will from the Russians, even as he forfeited an important opportunity to strengthen U.S. allies against future threats. Missile defense allows strong nations to defend themselves against weaker enemies without resorting to terrorist tactics or fighting bloody wars. This is a win-win, except for terrorists like Hamas and national rulers bent on aggression against neighbors.

But the dream dies hard, doesn’t it?

[Featured Image- Iranian Anti-American Mural at former US Embassy, David Holt London via Wikimedia Commons]

[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]


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